North Dakota lawmakers to consider full clip of bills expanding gun privileges
The proposals would expand the right to carry a hidden weapon on college campuses and in public buildings.
BISMARCK — North Dakota has among the least restrictive gun laws in the country, but some conservative lawmakers believe the state Legislature should lift nearly all limits on where weapons can be carried.
The Legislature approved a bill in 2017 to allow most law-abiding adult residents to carry a concealed gun in public without a permit. However, the law includes exceptions — schools, colleges, bars, places of worship and publicly owned buildings — where gun possession is still largely prohibited.
Proponents of eliminating those exceptions say more firearms would make students and employees safer while allowing people to protect themselves.
Education administrators and police officers worry that allowing nearly any adult to carry hidden weapons into schools and public buildings would increase the risk of gun-related violence.
The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee held hearings Thursday, Jan. 26, on nine gun-related bills, including five that would expand the right to carry a concealed firearm.
- House Bill 1483 would permit the possession of guns in public buildings, other than schools, federal facilities and courthouses. The legislation sponsored by Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, also would repeal a prohibition on carrying guns in bars.
- House Bill 1404 would effectively authorize the concealed carry of guns on public university and college campuses. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Matt Heilman, R-Bismarck.
- House Bill 1194 would allow honorably discharged military veterans to carry hidden guns in schools, churches and public buildings. The proposal is sponsored by Rep. Bill Tveit, R-Hazen.
- House Bill 1341, brought by Koppelman, would permit concealed carry at the state Capitol.
- House Bill 1339, sponsored by Koppelman, would allow residents of other states to carry a concealed gun without a permit in North Dakota.
- House Bill 1401, backed by Heilman, would bar local governments from adopting “red flag laws” that restrict gun access for people who police deem a threat to themselves or others.
Koppelman told the committee he believes federal courts have expanded and will continue to widen legal parameters for where guns can be carried. He said his bills preempt judicial action and support the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.
Heilman, a 21-year-old student on hiatus from Bismarck State College, said allowing college students to carry guns on campus would provide a measure of self-protection, particularly for women.
Tveit argued his proposal would protect against mass shootings by allowing well-trained members of the public to react in threatening situations.
Lobbyists for the gun industry, including the National Rifle Association’s Brian Gosch, expressed support for the bills.
Police from multiple agencies across the state testified against the proposals.
Beulah Police Chief Frank Senn said allowing potentially drunk bar patrons to carry guns in drinking establishments is a recipe for disaster. He added that his small department doesn’t have the resources to respond to more gun-related calls or to place extra security at public meetings.
North Dakota Highway Patrol Captain Luke Hendrickson said the likelihood of a violent incident occurring at the state Capitol would be heightened if guns were allowed in the building.
Lobbyists, administrators and student representatives for K-12 schools and public universities widely denounced the bills as dangerous.
Christopher Scott, the president of the North Dakota Student Association, said House Bill 1404 represented an “egregious attack on campus safety.” The Minot State University student said having more guns on campus would increase the risk of suicide at a time when mental health among students is deteriorating.
Michael Heilman, the director of North Dakota Small Organized Schools, said the state already has an “armed first responder” program for K-12 schools and House Bill 1194 would only create headaches.
The committee did not take action on any of the bills Thursday.